Teaching

dickinson-logoCurrent courses at Dickinson College

The Economic History of the World: Why Some Countries are Rich and Others are Poor (First Year Seminar), Fall 2016

For most of human history, income per capita has remained stagnant. To the extent that output increased, thanks to some technological developments, population quickly increased as well, keeping individual living standards unchanged. For hundreds of thousands of years, humanity had been in a “Malthusian trap”. Even the change from hunter-gatherers to agriculture, although it led to a large increase in population, it did not increase individual living standards. Yet, around two centuries ago, something truly unprecedented happened. Starting in the Low Countries and Britain, people escaped the Malthusian trap for the first time, and living standards skyrocketed ever since. For example, across many indicators, the poor in United States today have much better living conditions than the richest Americans a hundred years ago. This economic revolution has gradually, and so far unequally, spread around the world. What caused the change? Will this exponential economic progress continue? What are the obstacles to bringing the entire world out of poverty?

Introduction to Public Choice (ECON 314), Fall 2016

Public Choice is the application of economics to the study of non-market phenomena. It is concerned with the economic theory of collective action, of the public sector, of bureaucracies, of religion, of politics (democratic and authoritarian), and of criminal activities. In this course we will explore questions such as: What is the difference between private and public goods? What are common-pool resources and club goods? Under what conditions is it efficient for a collective problem to be addressed by government, by private arrangements, or to be ignored and left unsolved? How do democracies work, and why are they vulnerable to be captured by special interests? Why are voters so poorly informed and, yet, so passionate in their errors? How do we decide whether a collective problem should be addressed at federal, state, or local level? What is “self-governance”? What are the main mechanisms by which private arrangements solve collective problems, and how do individuals solve their collective problems when states don’t provide the necessary support or even actively work against general welfare?

(previously taught in Spring 2016)

Intermediate Microeconomic Theory (ECON278), Spring 2017 

Microeconomics provides a tool for analyzing economic, political and social phenomena by looking at how individuals make trade-offs (utility theory) and how they strategically interact with one another (game theory). The most important application of microeconomics is to explain how markets facilitate the coordination between consumers and producers thanks to the system of prices determined by supply and demand, and to explain the causes of possible failures of coordination in markets. Other applications include analyses of arrangements outside the price system, from the economics of households and the family, to the operation of hierarchies within firms, collective property arrangements, the analysis of politics and law, and the analysis of conflict.

(previously taught in Fall 2015)

Applied Statistical Methods and Comparative Institutions (ECON 496), Spring 2017

Social, economic and political reality is characterized by complex interactions between a large number of possible factors such as institutions, policies, organizations, cultural norms, history, and geography. Moreover, we usually have access only to limited and non-randomized data, making statistical analysis difficult. But we now have a variety of empirical and statistical methods for trying to deal with such challenges, allowing us to discover institutional patterns, and drawing plausible inferences about what determines various outcomes. This course presents such methods emphasizing their complementarity – each method is useful under different contexts and for different purposes, and together they can provide a more or less coherent composite image. The course covers the following methods: (1) Bayesian probability theory, (2) case studies and analytic narratives, (3) basic linear and non-linear econometrics, (4) factor analysis, (5) qualitative and fuzzy-set comparative method, (6) k-means pattern analysis and hierarchical clustering. The course is focused on giving you a practical skill set, teaching you how to use these methods in full awareness of their limitations and complementaries.

Past courses

Introduction to Public Choice, Spring 2016 (ECON 314), Dickinson College [Syllabus]

Public Choice is the application of economics to the study of non-market phenomena. It is concerned with the economic theory of collective action, of the public sector, of bureaucracies, of religion, of politics (democratic and authoritarian), and of criminal activities. In this course we will explore questions such as: What is the difference between private and public goods? What are common-pool resources and club goods? Under what conditions is it efficient for a collective problem to be addressed by government, by private arrangements, or to be ignored and left unsolved? How do democracies work, and why are they vulnerable to be captured by special interests? Why are voters so poorly informed and, yet, so passionate in their errors? How do we decide whether a collective problem should be addressed at federal, state, or local level? What is “self-governance”? What are the main mechanisms by which private arrangements solve collective problems, and how do individuals solve their collective problems when states don’t provide the necessary support or even actively work against general welfare?

Austrian Political Economy (ECON 496), Spring 2016, Dickinson College [Syllabus]

Political economy is the economic analysis of public policies, of institutions, and of political regimes. Unlike standard public choice, which focuses mainly on incentives, Austrian Political Economy (APE) tends to put a greater emphasis on the importance of (1) knowledge limitations involved in the attempts to discover and implement the best solutions to public problems and avoid unintended consequences; (2) long-term processes, rather than static analysis; and (3) ideology and culture. In its most general form, APE is trying to understand how to build “robust institutions”, meaning institutions that work well and produce prosperity even under weak assumptions about how much information people possess, how rational they are, and how well-intentioned they are.

Intermediate Microeconomic Theory (ECON278), Fall 2015, Dickinson College [Syllabus]

Microeconomics provides a tool for analyzing economic, political and social phenomena by looking at how individuals make trade-offs (utility theory) and how they strategically interact with one another (game theory). The most important application of microeconomics is to explain how markets facilitate the coordination between consumers and producers thanks to the system of prices determined by supply and demand, and to explain the causes of possible failures of coordination in markets. Other applications include analyses of arrangements outside the price system, from the economics of households and the family, to the operation of hierarchies within firms, collective property arrangements, the analysis of politics and law, and the analysis of conflict.

Introduction to Austrian Economics (ECON214), Fall 2015, Dickinson College [Syllabus]

The basic premise of Austrian economics is that the role of prices as mechanisms for large scale coordination is revealed more clearly once we look at the entrepreneurial process by which prices form and adjust, a process that is imperfect and takes time. We will consider an array of questions from microeconomics, macroeconomics, and political economy, such as: What is entrepreneurship? Do neoclassical models of competition fully capture the rivalrous nature of competition in the real world? How do we incorporate Schumpeterian “creative destruction” more fully into our microeconomic models? What do we miss if we model capital as homogeneous? What is the connection between the specificity of capital goods and the length of recessions and the existence of involuntary unemployment? How do monetary policies affect entrepreneurial decisions, possibly inducing large-scale misallocations of capital? What institutions are most robust in delivering desirable social outcomes as we relax assumptions of benevolence and perfect knowledge? Why do ideas, rather than only interests, matter as drivers of social change, and what are the channels by which ideology and culture influence or constrain institutional change?

Austrian Economics (ECON 403), Spring 2014, George Mason University [Syllabus]

In previous courses you have become familiar with the basics of the neoclassical approach to microeconomics and macroeconomics. But what are the limits of this approach? The basic premise of Austrian economics is that the role of prices as mechanisms for large scale coordination among strangers is revealed more clearly once we look more closely at the entrepreneurial process by which prices form and adjust, a process that is imperfect and takes time. Consider the following questions regarding microeconomics, macroeconomics, and political economy:

  • How realistic is the perfect competition model? What is entrepreneurship? If real-world markets are rarely in a state of equilibrium, what do we miss when we use equilibrium models? Does the model of monopolistic competition fully capture the rivalrous nature of competition in the real world? How do we incorporate Schumpeterian “creative destruction” more fully into our microeconomic models? If all costs are opportunity costs, they are subjective. But can the theory of revealed preferences deal with the subjectivity of costs?
  • What are the limits of representative agent models as way to model macroeconomic phenomena? How do we model physical and human capital, and changes over time in the allocation of capital, while taking into account that they are heterogeneous and have high degrees of specificity? What do we miss if we model capital as homogeneous? What is the connection between the specificity of capital and the length of recessions and the existence of involuntary unemployment? How do monetary policies affect entrepreneurial decisions, possibly inducing large-scale misallocations of capital? What are the consequences of the short-term non-neutrality of money, and how short is this “short-term”?
  • How do we analyze public policies in a way that fully takes into account not just the limited benevolence of those involved in institutional design, but also of their limited knowledge? Neoclassical models usually assume property rights that are perfectly, and even costlessly, enforced. But how do property rights emerge, and how to they change as various conditions change? Is there a role for a type of social or political entrepreneurship in establishing and changing property rights? What institutions are most robust in delivering desirable social outcomes as we relax the assumptions of benevolence and perfect knowledge? Why do ideas, rather than only interests, matter as drivers of social change? What are the channels by which ideology and culture influence or constrain institutional change?

Austrian economics, often described as “the theory of the market process”, provides a way to address such questions going beyond the reach of simple neoclassical models. It provides a general theory of entrepreneurship, and assumes that this is the key concept for modeling change. Furthermore, it tries to describe complex aggregate phenomena as emerging from the interactions of bounded rational agents, without taking the shortcut of representative agent models, and taking the heterogeneity of both capital and knowledge at face value.